Reflecting on time and overtime

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This week gave me an opportunity to think about time, work, and money.

I had spent much of Sunday and my evenings on conference-related work. As much as I enjoyed the opportunity to reach out and touch people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to meet, I also realized that it was time I took away from my personal projects and my other relationships. By the time the conference wrapped up on Wednesday, I was looking forward to a quiet day working at home.

Although I’d already worked the typical number of hours for the week, I still felt that I needed to keep working on Thursday and Friday. I wanted to make some more progress on my main billable project, and I was also helping a number of volunteer efforts get off the ground. I put in a full day of work on Thursday, and I headed into the office on Friday.

After I did some more work on my main billable project, demonstrated some of our internal Web 2.0 tools, and replied to my e-mail, I looked into the process for filing overtime. I had given the company my personal time because the company wanted the value I could create, so I figured that I should be able to get some of that value back. I knew I could be compensated in either money or time, but I needed to do some paperwork.

Catching myself getting frustrated by the process for filing overtime, I decided to put off the paperwork until next week and enjoy some of the time that I had earned.

Don’t get me wrong–I love the opportunities I have to grow and work with such wonderful people. I just want to make sure that I’m living the values that I want to live, because I won’t be effective if I’m not authentic. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love my work. This means I love it enough to want to always love it, instead of coming to resent it or losing touch with myself.

During my commute back, I looked at the options of no overtime, overtime for money, overtime for time, and free overtime, thinking about their effects on my happiness, relationships, increased opportunities to help, career progress, and bank balance. This is the chart I sketched on the subway ride home.080718-21.49.23

VALUES: Personal happiness and relationships are very important to me. I enjoy opportunities to help, but I’m not too worried about it because there are more than enough awesome opportunities to reach out and make a difference, both inside and outside work. I think about but am not overly concerned with career growth, because that tends to follow opportunities to help. Money is flexible. I don’t mind growing wealth and I’d like to share in the value I create, but because I enjoy being frugal and I don’t have many financial demands, I’m not driven to earn more and more.

OPTIONS:

No overtime: If I try my best to stay within the 40-44 hours that forms a "typical" work week, I think this will have a terrific effect on my happiness and my relationships. I’ll be able to explore other areas, exercise my creativity, and keep myself from going overboard. I’ll miss out on some opportunities to help at work and my career won’t progress as quickly as other people’s might, but I’ll have more opportunities to help outside work and those opportunities may turn into things that can make money for me, too. This doesn’t stop me from volunteering on things I love about work during my free time (but only the things I love!). =) What will I do with the rest of the time? Experience new things, think, learn, write, dream, doodle, listen, share, grow…

Overtime compensated by money: Ideally it would be overtime for something I really enjoy and would be doing anyway, but even in that case, I’d still have to deal with the paperwork. Once I sort out the paperwork, though, this will be less stressful. (I should revise this chart after I complete the process a number of times.) On the downside, I might find myself doing overtime on things I don’t particularly care about, in which case I’ll probably feel the strain of not enough rest, reflection, or creative randomness. I may also end up finding it easier to focus on work than on relationships, so that’s not too good either. In addition, money is flexible, but time is irreplaceable. On the upside, it’ll open up more opportunities to help at work, it would be good for my career (particularly that utilization target), and it would grow my bank balance (well, after taxes). It’s also a good way of making sure that I spend time on things that other people will find valuable.

Overtime compensated by time later on: This depends on the circumstances. I would need to fill out paperwork and coordinate with my team members, which will take effort. On the other hand, if this allows me to move time around so that I can have more chunks of free time, then that can work out well for personal happiness and relationships. If I can put in work when demand is high and take time for myself when demand is low, then my opportunities and career would probably be positively affected. On the other hand, there will probably always be demand, and it’s hard to take a break when other people are working hard.

Free overtime: I can skip the paperwork, but that doesn’t solve the problem of being more stressed because I give up time spent on rest, reflection, learning, or relationships. It’s good for opportunities and career, and has a neutral effect on money.

SUMMARY: My intuition tells me that the no overtime case gets me closest to living my values without too much stress, and even if that might limit my career advancement, it opens so much more of life to me. Overtime for money and overtime for time are pretty much tied, but it’ll be a moot point because overtime is going to be phased out for my job category next year. Free overtime is good for the company, but it doesn’t help me confront and try to live my values, and it’s too easy to get sucked into work.

I’m going to work on the paperwork so that I can get what I’m eligible for and so that I can understand the process. After that, I’ll avoid working overtime unless the company really really needs it, and then I’ll see if I can either take that as time off (preferably) or as money.

I think it’s good to think out loud about things like this. I’ve learned more about my tradeoffs, and I’d love to hear your insights. If my employer disagrees with the way I currently think, I’d rather hear about it now (and maybe work out a different view?) than later. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my work. Again: all this means I love it enough to want to always love it, instead of coming to resent it. I hope that by thinking about my values and decisions, I can make the fit better and better.

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  • gary

    nix the overtime. the opportunity cost is too high. concentrate on your book or real estate or some other project you are interested in.

  • dima

    In my company there are a lot of people that work overtime for free. Because company need it. And people are kind of patriot about their company. You know there is a joke about it:

    6 p.m. at IT company. All people work. One of them stands up and go home. Ather people look at him in perplexity.
    Next day. Same time. This person stands up and go home. Ather people look at him angry.
    Next day. Same time. Hi stands up. One of other people say:
    - Hey, will all work on hot project! Why are go home so early?!
    - Sorry, I’m on leave…

    I think that “no overtime” case is right decision :)

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Gary: Yes, it’s important to make space for these other opportunities. =)

    Dima: Sad, but all too frequently true!

    It’s not that I don’t care about my company. I care about the company very much, and I believe in what we’re doing. But if I let work-time expand, I’ll have no reason to make myself be more efficient and more effective.

    I’m tempted not to do the paperwork for the previous overtime I worked, out of principle. I can “charge” that time to experience. If I believe in a results-oriented workplace, then overtime has nothing to do with it. I don’t want to earn money based on the time I put in. I want to earn money based on the value I create.

  • http://twitter.com/adamclyde adam christensen

    Sacha – great little write up.

    IBM’s extreme flexibility with regard to work schedule is a huge blessing for me. BUT, it also can be a trap if not managed well. My situation is a little different as I don’t have billable hours, nor do I have overtime options. But there’s no real expectation from my manager on the amount of time I’ll work in a given week, nor the hours I come in or leave. The only real expectation is that I get the work done on time. And do it well.

    So while that is very liberating, with the boundaries between personal and professional time blurred, I often ended spending MORE time working, at the expense of personal pursuits and relationships.

    So where I’ve ended lately is that I feel no guilt or need to put in hours just for the sake of putting in hours. And I’ve never spoken to any managers or executives who expect otherwise. Do the work, do what you need, but we aren’t volunteers so there’s no need to work for the sake of working.

    That’s not very articulate, but it’s about all I can muster on a Saturday afternoon. Hey, wait, what am I doing on a computer on Saturday. Signing off now.

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Adam: I guess that’s the thing I’m coming to terms with. =) I remember thinking about time a few months after I started because I had worked an intensive week and I knew I needed a break. I guess I’ve come full circle, with a better understanding of work, time, and what those mean to me.

    I love this company. I know I don’t want to ever end up in an antagonistic relationship with my work, thinking that it takes me away from the rest of my life. I had been tempted to think like that because I’d allowed myself to focus too much on work-related things, but now that I can take a step back and look at it, it wasn’t really all that bad. I also know that there’s no way I’m going to stop myself from working on fun work-related things just because X hours have passed. For un-fun but essential things that need to be done, I’ll try to push back timelines so that they’re more realistic (knowing I might be fatigued or even burn out if I try to do too much in one week), but because I believe in the work that we do and the people we do it with, I can handle the occasional sprint. And I’ll also make sure I occasionally force myself out of my comfort zone and spend time exploring things not directly related to work, because there’s so much to discover when you step outside the boundaries of a bug list…

    =) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for helping me develop mine!

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  • Stacy

    Lose the overtime, I have worked and worked both free overtime and for time in leiu for the company I work for, but people come to expect more and more of this unpaid overtime and when you decide one day you need to spend some time for yourself it can be taken negatively that you are not doing the overtime.
    I guess it depends on the company but in my experience if you give your hand sometimes you may find your arm is taken,
    So essentially only do that which you are comfortable to not receive in return, if oyu want something in return sort out that paperwork either first or as a priority.
    I learnt the hard way that if you give too much it can be (with the wrong company) taken for granted!